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Vaping: The Teenage Epidemic
Dec. 13, 2022
Jaiden Lamb, Grade 11

How e-cigarettes have addicted a whole new generation to nicotine. Photo by Gracia Lam.

Alongside humans, smoking has risen from its ancestral ashes to evolve. Following its tailpipe taboo days of the 20th century, nicotine-dispensing devices have gradually cemented themselves in the lives of Canadians. Since the birth of the classic white-bodied, orange-tipped cigarettes, there has been a steady rise of alternative forms of smoking following the 21st century, the most common being ‘e-cigarettes.’

Companies such as Juul and other industry giants have been at the forefront of this “new wave” of smoking, with the valuation of the E-Cigarette market totaling $1.6 bn (CAD) in 2022. Such success has often been said to lie with the newer, sleeker designs equipped with easily refillable capsules alongside rechargeable batteries–often mistaken for USB drives. However, while most advertising has labelled these devices as the “best method” of nicotine rehabilitation for old cigarette smokers, this redesign of smoking has left an addictive imprint on a much younger generation – a generation who has never smoked before.

On the outside, e-cigarettes, like Juul, are not immediately associated with their trademark habit. With a decreased size and altered exterior, these devices enable users to receive a quick dose of nicotine without the social stigma. However, this ease of access has just as quickly hooked younger users to the nicotine game.

The first generations of e-cigarettes incorporated the design and colour elements of the traditional cigarette, including a light-up tip. The second generation involved complex, customizable devices that release clouds of vapour, typically referred to as “vape pods.” However, the latest generation of “rechargeable” e-cigarettes, including companies such as Juul, avoided complex operating systems, refilling, or charging methods. Instead, they came with the addition of various colour flavourings and sleek designs. The product, which resonates with modern tech appliances that younger kids are familiar with, is a device called the “vape pen.” But that’s where things get tricky.

One survey in Quebec, with a sample range of students between grades 7 and 12, found that 34% of students had tried a vaping product, with 20% reporting to have used one within the past 30 days. Furthermore, the survey found that students cannot properly identify whether a vape contains nicotine. Specifically, 28% had tried an e-cigarette with nicotine, while 29% had tried an e-cigarette without nicotine.

Contrastingly, national surveys conducted by Statistics Canada found that in 2020, more than 14% of youth aged 15 to 19 reported having vaped in the past 30 days, while over one-third (35%) reported having tried it at some point in their lives. More insidiously, of those who reported vaping in the past 30 days, 50% responded that they vaped daily. Moreover, there were notable differences by gender, with men (19%) being more likely than women (14%) to have reported ever having tried vaping.

When asked why they vaped, participants were grouped into various categories: (1) those who just wanted to try, (2) those who reported enjoying it, (3) those who vaped to reduce stress, (4) those who vaped to reduce or quit smoking, and (5) those who mentioned other reasons.

So where does this leave students who do vape? To answer that, we can look at the overwhelming number of harms brought on by vape products. In most cases, vaping serves as the mechanism for nicotine distribution – the addictive chemical that encapsulates two major issues. First, vaping has been found to alter teen brain development with effects such as memory impairment, hyperactivity, and impulsive behavioural changes. Second, the amount of nicotine concentration in vapes is not widely known, with one study finding JUUL brand e-cigarettes containing 5%, or 59 mg/ml, of nicotine – the approximate equivalent of nicotine in 20 combustible cigarettes.

In the end, the creation of the e-cigarette has allowed old smokers to break their past habits at the expense of hooking an entirely new generation of young people toward a future of nicotine addiction and lung damage.

So, what can we do to help solve or, at the very least, reduce the severity of such statistics? Across the news spectrum, experts and parents alike are heavily concerned about the percentages and numbers of vaping kids; however, they fail to recognize who this issue addresses. As such, one of the most effective ways of dealing with the issue is to sit down and directly discuss vaping with them.

It took more than 100 years of research, discussion, and fervent debate to prove the harmful effects of smoking. Nevertheless, what experts have already uncovered should incite teens to put out the fire that produces the smoke.